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Seth letter sparks attack on leaders

Feb. 18: Suspected supporters of former CPM MP Lakshman Seth today gheraoed three senior leaders, including two probing corruption charges related to him, in East Midnapore, a day after he wrote to the party state secretary apparently saying he did not want to renew his membership.

The 100-odd protesters, mostly local committee members from Tamluk and Haldia, also allegedly assaulted some district leaders. The agitators demanded that Seth be re-nominated for the Tamluk Lok Sabha seat this time. They also protested the formation of a two-member inquiry panel to probe complaints of financial irregularities against an NGO Seth heads.

In his letter to CPM state secretary Biman Bose yesterday, Seth had requested that the inquiry panel be folded up, adding that he did not want to renew his party membership. A person cannot remain in the party if he or she does not renew the membership, usually done in February-March.

A CPM source said Seth knew that central committee members Mridul De and Nripen Chowdhury, who have been tasked with probing the complaints of corruption against the NGO Seth heads, were close to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, “at whose instance Seth was dropped from the state committee”.

Seth, out on bail in connection with the 2007 Nandigram armed recapture case, was not available for comment on his loyalists heckling De, Chowdhury and Rabin Deb, a state secretariat member and the CPM’s East Midnapore observer. Seth’s wife Tamalika refused comment.

The ruckus outside the CPM office in East Midnapore’s Nimtauri, on the outskirts of Tamluk, came at a time the party is trying to regroup and claw back after the February 9 Brigade rally drew a “an unexpectedly high turnout”.

De, Chowdhury and Deb had just reached the Nimtauri office to attend a district secretariat meeting around 11.30am when Seth’s supporters surrounded their black Mahindra Bolero and shouted “go back” slogans. Besides attending the meeting, De and Chowdhury were also supposed to investigate the corruption complaints, mostly against ICARE, the NGO Seth set up in 1995 to run a number of educational institutions including a medical college.

The three leaders from Calcutta were not allowed to get off the car for about an hour. The protesters thumped on the bonnet and the windows.

District leaders Chakradhar Mikap, a former minister, Prasanta Pradhan and Niranjan Sihi tried to rescue De, Chowdhury and Deb. In the melee, Mikap was allegedly pushed around, caught by the collar and chased. Pradhan and Sihi were slapped on their back.

Deb, De and Chowdhury left the party office without attending the secretariat meeting, called to discuss the strategy for the Lok Sabha elections. They returned to the office around 3.30pm, by which time the protesters had left.

Senior CPM leaders present at the Nimtauri office could not recollect such an “untoward incident” involving party activists.

“Ours is a regimented party and such an untoward incident is unheard of,” said Kanu Sahu, the district CPM secretary.

An emergency meeting of the state secretariat was held at Alimuddin Street this evening, where the attack on the leaders was condemned.

Sahu told The Telegraph that those involved in “heckling” the leaders would be identified and brought to task.

CPM state secretary Biman Bose parried questions on today’s attack. “I was not here. I can comment only when I get a report on what happened.”

Bose said he had received Seth’s letter. “Yes, he has sent a letter to us saying he cannot work properly as he cannot visit the district (East Midnapore),” he said.

In September last year, Seth was restrained by the Supreme Court from visiting West and East Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura.

CPM sources said Seth had mentioned in the letter that he did not wish to renew his party membership because of the “insult” meted out to him by forming the inquiry panel.

Pradhan said the commission was formed earlier this month “following complaints of financial irregularities”.

CPM sources said the leadership was in a dilemma on whether to take any steps against Seth. While a section wants his expulsion, another is in favour of adopting a wait-and-watch policy as Seth is believed to have a strong support base in East Midnapore.

“As the Lok Sabha elections are nearing, we cannot take hasty decisions… We will have to discuss the matter in the party,” a CPM state secretariat member said, adding another round of discussions would be held later this week.

Some of the CPM sources said that as Seth had the support of some prominent East Midnapore leaders, action against him could result in a revolt.

But some others said that in the long run, action against Seth would benefit the party. “Most of the honest comrades in the district have been marginalised by Seth and his aides. They will be able to return to the mainstream if some action is taken against him,” a source said.

Trinamul leaders said they were happy with today’s development as it had “exposed the cracks” in the CPM.

“We are enjoying this episode. This is what happens if criminals like Seth are given the power to control the party. The CPM was riding a tiger, now it is finding it difficult to get off,” said Subhendu Adhikari, the Trinamul MP from Tamluk.